Some people seem to have a sixth sense for playing music. It’s probably because many times those people are raised with musical instruments readily available in the household. From an early age these people have an inside track to being successful at playing. Kristin Hamilton was one of these fortunate people that had these circumstances at her disposal. Both sides of her family were musical, “My dad’s side had more of the entertainers,” she explains, “it was always something we did at get togethers and things like that.” Now that tradition has continued with her children as her father, Rocky Cathcart, and herself have nurtured Kristin’s two children into playing as well.
Kristin is the primary singer for the regionally popular band Under The Big Oak Tree, a group that started as a duo of her and her father before even adopting its current name. It was then expanded to add multi-instrumentalist Simon Fink and bassist Doug Ward. Sean Cleary would also be added for a short time but Hamilton’s father would move to Texas and the band would settle on their current trio lineup with Hamilton, Fink and Ward. The trio is currently recording their third full-length album and is in the middle of their very popular Handpicked Concert Series held in downtown St. Joseph
After completing the first of three shows this season’s annual Handpicked series, the trio has their sights set on the next show to take place February 3rd titled “Love Songs” and it will feature the prominent bluegrass duo Betse & Clarke from Kansas City. The topic was covered in last year’s handpicked series as well but as you might guess there is plenty of material to choose from and the band plans on treading over little if any of the same ground. Next up on April 7th is the final installment titled “Songs of St. Joseph” with special guest Jason Riley. The Handpicked series’ are just one reason Under The Big Oak Tree has emerged as one of the most popular and interesting bands in the area. The band being a success has had an influence in other areas of Hamilton’s life as well as her children have showed interest in playing just as she did.
“I’ve always encouraged them to play on instruments when they were growing up,” she says, “Lucy has been taking lessons from Simon [Fink] since she was 7, she’s been asking for a violin since she was 6 and she loves it, she bought herself a ukulele with her own money and started writing songs.” Hamilton says of her youngest, “Isaac plays by ear, he started playing cello at school and he loves to play the keyboard. Music comes very easily for him.” It was only natural that this would lead to them playing as a family. “I’m constantly feeling like I’m learning,” Hamilton reveals, “I do feel like I’m learning with the kids, Simon is great about if he’s teaching Lucy a fiddle tune, he’ll send the chords and say ‘play this with her.’ That was another thing that really inspired the family band, we had material to work with.” It seems to have happened very organically as the casual playing led to some performances.
After being encouraged to peruse a showcase for an event with the Folk Alliance, the group settled on a name, created a facebook page and put some videos online as were the requirements to play the event. The name Blue House Family Band comes from the blue house they live in and leisurely play in regularly. From their first performances at Unplugged, the open mic bar on Frederick, they have now performed at various events including First Saturday’s at The Lucky Tiger, The Acoustic Alcove in Kansas City, Trails West! and the Beer Walk for the Arts.
The band plays the same vein of acoustic americana music that Under The Big Oak Tree plays but they aren’t quite the same as a regular band. They play out occasionally but the focus seems to be on playing as a family as they even encourage other families to play together as well. All of this traces directly back to her musical relationship with her father. “He’s been playing since the beginning of time, his family played and he can pass a lot on to the kids.” Hamilton reflects, “We can’t go to Grandpa’s house and not play music, the majority of the time we are jamming.”
Hamilton makes it clear that she feels playing music from a young age is very important for the future of the musical community. “The kids have helped Under The Big Oak Tree with some of our library shows,” she shares, “we’ve done some children’s programs where it seemed appropriate to add the kids in.” The shows were displaying they different instruments and how they are featured in the songs to teach other potential younger musicians. All of this pushes toward building a greater music community and Hamilton knows the value that can have. She has used her vast interest in music to be a large part of the Bluegrass Battles Hunger Festival that has been a cornerstone in St. Joseph for almost a decade now.
Bluegrass Battles Hunger is a two day concert event that benefits Second Harvest Food Bank in St. Joseph. Hamilton helps schedule bands to come play the fundraiser which features both nationally touring acts and some of the best local talent in the genre. The event has even recently grown to include a “community jam” that Hamilton plans on making a permanent fixture of the event. This jam reflects what she has done with her children as she notes the musical community is similar to a family as well. The event has continued to draw momentum and help the downtown arts scene too. Hamilton is one of many cogs in the organization though, it takes several people to put together such an event. Right now the group is looking for dedicated people to fill a couple seats on the board, more information can be found at BluegrassBattlesHunger.com as they are already working on the 2018 festival to be held in September.
It’s clear from speaking with Hamilton that whether it is her band with her friends, Blue House Family Band or helping create a very successful concert series for a good cause; her focus is clearly on music bringing people together starting back in the house she grew up in. “Music was kind of a soundtrack to our lives,” she says, “we didn’t ever do a family band, we just did it for fun. I think that’s why I love to just get together with people and sing.” Now she continues to work hard to pass the joy she has found in music on to her own children. “Music is one of the most important things I can give to the kids because they will have it forever,” Hamilton summarizes, “faith and music are the two greatest things I can give them.”